At least one person confirmed to have COVID-19 has died in North Korea and hundreds of thousands have shown fever symptoms, state media says, offering hints at the potentially dire scale of country’s first confirmed outbreak since the pandemic began.
Some 187,800 people are being treated in isolation as a fever of unidentified origin has “explosively spread nationwide” since late April, the official KCNA news agency reported on Friday.
About 350,000 people have shown signs of that fever, including 18,000 who reported such symptoms on Tuesday alone, KCNA said. Some 162,200 of them have been treated so far.
It did not specify how many had tested positive for COVID-19.
At least six people who showed fever symptoms died. One was confirmed to have contracted the Omicron variant of the virus, KCNA said.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visited the anti-virus command centre on Tuesday after declaring a “gravest state emergency” and ordering a national lockdown on Thursday.
He “criticised that the simultaneous spread of fever with the capital area as a centre shows that there is a vulnerable point in the epidemic prevention system we have already established”, KCNA said.
Mr Kim said isolating and treating people with fever was a top priority. He also called on doctors to devise scientific treatment methods “at a lightning tempo” and to bolster medication supplies.
In another statement, KCNA said health authorities were trying to organise testing and treatment systems and bolster disinfection work.
The rapid spread of COVID highlights the potential for a major crisis in a country that lacks medical resources but has refused international help with vaccinations and kept its borders shut.
Analysts said the outbreak could threaten to deepen the isolated country’s already tough food situation this year, as the lockdown would hamper its “all-out fight” against drought and the mobilisation of labour.